“We can sell pretty deeply:” How Hallmark is bucking supply chain woes and expanding in-content advertising opportunities this holiday season
Welcome to the holiday movie season—you’re late. Hallmark Channel started its “Countdown to Christmas” on October 23, and kicked it into high gear over Thanksgiving weekend when it premiered six new titles. All told, the network king of Christmas cheer projects it will reach 60 to 70 million unduplicated viewers in Q4, more than any other.
“We always see a really big ratings bump right off the bat when fourth quarter starts, and viewership builds as we roll out our holiday programming throughout the rest of the year,” said Chris Ward, svp of Midwest ad sales for Hallmark Channel.
We asked Ward whether there’s still room for advertisers after an explosive 2021 upfront season, what’s happening with supply chain pullback and how they’re opening up new opportunities within existing inventory during their most sought-after season.
“We have an enormous holiday library that airs on linear television and SVOD.
Mirriad’s technology gives advertisers an innovative way to leverage that.”
Midwest Ad Sales, Crown Media, Hallmark
I’ll admit: I’m Grinch-adjacent. To me, Christmas movies are like egg nog—just a taste and then not again until next year. So, I have to ask, who is watching all these movies and what is the appeal?
Our movies provide an escape from the world. We’re bombarded 24-7 with news, the day to day rush of our lives, and now there’s COVID. You turn on a Hallmark holiday movie and it’s the best possible escape—celebrating love and family and human connection. Everything works out in the end. Our audience craves that.
So, who are you reaching?
Our sweet spot demo is Women 25-to-54. While we continue to be popular among older viewers, we also see some movies drawing a younger audience. Our programming team did a great job this year in casting new actors who are active on social media, and that helped us to broaden our reach with young people.
In fact, we’re seeing solid gains among women 18+ this year. So far this season, Hallmark Channel’s audience share in total day among women 18+ is up 14% versus last year. It’s also the most-watched entertainment cable network in fourth quarter to-date across households, women 18+, and total viewers.
2021 has been a roller coaster of a year in media buying. There was huge upfront advertiser demand early in 2021, but now supply chain concerns are prompting some advertisers to pull back. How is that playing out for Hallmark?
We had a very strong upfront. Typically, in cable we reserve some inventory for the scatter marketplace, and that was impacted a bit by the supply chain and other elements. That said, we have weathered the storm. Because we can sell pretty deeply into fourth quarter, including many first time advertisers that have come in to join the fun. A lot of streaming services recognize the value in linear TV to promote their shows, and there is some irony there. Fortunately, it’s an irony that is paying off for us.
We remain in strong demand and as we close out the market over the next couple of weeks, we’re having topline conversations about holiday 2022, which as someone pointed out, is only 375 quick shopping days away.
With traditional inventory in such high demand, how are you expanding opportunities for advertisers?
Our partnership with Mirriad is a great example. In addition to our current slate of movies, we have an enormous library of content that airs on our linear networks and our SVOD subscription service. As the market gets tight and inventory is low, Mirriad’s digital product placement technology opens up new inventory and gives advertisers an innovative way to leverage that.
So, Mirriad inserts advertiser products and branding across your library of titles, including the ones airing now. How does that work from a supply standpoint?
We supplied Mirriad with certain movies, and then they match us up with advertisers who want to move outside of the 30-second spot. We want to make sure it’s a good fit for us and a good fit for them. For us it’s mostly making sure that advertisers fit into the content in a way that doesn’t distract from the story line. It’s important that we feature products from categories that would naturally be there.
From there, we work to ensure that both sides agree on the scene and that we have enough lead time for our ops departments insert the product into the movie.
Traditionally, product placements take months to negotiate, plus production time. How long is the lead time when a product or brand is digitally inserted?
The process takes 4-5 days. Of course, we always prefer as much lead time as possible so we can make sure to get everything right. That said, it’s a fairly short turnaround time, especially in comparison to the timeline of traditional integrations, which can tie up production and are subject to extensive approvals.
And has there been a demand for this unorthodox kind of advertising?
A food delivery service and a payments brand were our first two. Since then four or five others have come through. It’s beginning to pick up speed. You can purchase one Mirriad integration or negotiate a flight of movies. Typically, advertisers are asking for 1 to 3 placements as part of the same deal.
With Nielsen under attack, what metrics are you using to measure success?
Nielsen remains the main currency in data measurement. Still, we are always working with partners in the data space to explore alternatives. Right now, we’re in active talks with a few organizations and are trying to determine if any of them are suitable for us. Again, though, nine out of 10 of our deals transact through Nielsen.
With Mirriad integrations, advertisers know going in what our ratings projections are for the movie, but we don’t promise specific audience numbers like we do in the upfronts.
Speaking of viewership, Hallmark is hardly alone in the holiday movie space now. How do you see the competition?
We’ve been doing this since 2002, a year after the Hallmark Channel debuted, and we’ve perfected it. We’ve become a pop culture phenomenon that includes movies, food, wine, decorations, clothing, music, books. Hallmark really is the destination. No other network can replicate it.